What happens when you feel judged for how much you do to take care of your family member, or criticized for particular choices you’ve made in providing that care? Do you react by feeling like you have to prove to your judges, and justify to your critics, what you do and why you need to do it?
If so, today I want to talk to you about letting go of the constant pressure of “proving and convincing” others of all you do.
Almost every day caregivers tell me at length about the frustration they feel about siblings, extended family members and even some friends seeming to continually question their caregiving decisions. The comments and question often include words that trigger a defensive reaction: “Why do you put so much time and energy into always trying doing such a perfect job?” “Why do you always seem to have so little energy left to spend time with us? Don’t you care about your friends any more?” “Why are you so exhausted all the time? Can’t you just let someone else pitch in and take a couple days off every now and then?”
The assumption underlying all these critical observations and comments seems to be “You must be doing it wrong!”
These caregivers share with me how stressful it is to be continually questioned about what they’re doing. They hear the doubts others express about how much care mom or dad actually needs (the implication being: “much less!”), and describe how defensive they become, feeling like they need to prove they have a right to feel so overwhelmed and exhausted all the time. They wish they could tell these critics, “Just spend one day walking a mile in my shoes!”
Here’s the thing: It is perfectly acceptable to have conversations about options and possibilities for improving or even streamlining your parent’s care. It is not, however, acceptable to be judged. Since you cannot control how anyone else will speak to you about what you’re doing or how you’re handling your role as caregiver, it’s helpful if you can focus on their desired outcome in criticizing how you’re doing the job, rather than on the literal meaning of their words. Do they miss spending time with you? Does some part of them feel guilty, because you’re so devoted and caring while they’re not pitching in very much? Understanding their motivation will help you let their judgmental words roll off your back more easily.
Learning to let words go by without taking them personally and feeling bad about them is an enormous shift, to be sure. It helps a lot to imagine in advance more such comments coming your way and practice new responses to family and friends who do not seem to understand what caregiving really entails. You do not need to be snarky or hostile. In fact, you can even be compassionate once you step aside from the verbal onslaught and focus on their desired outcomes – and yours!
Start with the following 6 Basic Steps:
- And We Breathe. Take that breath to shift from reacting while feeling defensive and to first thinking the situation through, then responding with their possible agenda in mind.
- Remember it’s NEVER Personal. Their comments, criticisms and recommendations are NOT about you. Their comments are about their needs and beliefs, and a reflection of who they are.
- Acknowledge their concern for Mom. You might start by saying out loud, “I appreciate how much you love mom.…” (and don’t follow that with the word “but” since that’s a potential trigger word for them!). Then breathe, slowly and deeply.
- Ask them, “What’s your desired outcome in telling me this?” By getting them to tell you why they’re volunteering their opinions about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, you’ll have more accurate information to go on. Then take another deep breath and let them answer. (If it you think it will help, explain that by “desired outcome” you mean something they want and also have control over.)
- Redirect the focus. If they continue to respond in a judgmental and critical way and you feel attacked, judged or disrespected, take another deep breath and identify what you hear: “The way you’re telling me your opinion sounds really harsh and hurtful, like you’re attacking me. Since your desired outcome is for mom’s care to be the most appropriate possible, it would help if we can focus in a positive way to achieve that goal. Can we agree to do that?” Then BREATHE!
- Be open to new possibilities. Do not Explain, Defend or Justify. When confronted with “You should…” comments, it’s natural for your initial reaction is be feeling defensive, angry, resentful, upset or all of the above. Remember, it’s how you respond that makes all the difference.
The key is to sift through the noise to hear the potentially valuable message, and there may be more than one. Once you step out of the emotional overload of feeling attacked, judged and criticized, there may be some ideas that are worth exploring further. In doing so, also remember that you are not necessarily the only person who can implement them.
If the outcome of this process is being able to ask for help and/or delegating dome of your responsibilities, so much the better! We’ll explore asking for help and delegating responsibilities in the next post – and in the mean time, there are many other articles on this site that can help you practice additional new skills!
When confronted with criticisms and judgments, learning to respond in new ways takes practice, patience, perseverance and courage. Please be patient with yourself as you learn new strategies and coping skills. Use the Caregivers’ Step-By Step Guide as a starting point to gain focus, clarity and direction.
Stay tuned for “Asking for Help and Delegating Responsibilities” next week!
And we breathe…